The administration’s board of trustees recently moved to set up a committee that will advise SITLA of any potential impacts to deer and elk habitat in the Bogart and One Eye Canyon areas.
According to SITLA Deputy Director Kim Christy, the seven-member committee will include two voting members from the sportsmen and hunting community, along with two more representatives from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development and SITLA’s board will also have voices on the committee, which will be chaired by a seventh non-voting member.
Christy anticipates that the committee will hold its first meeting in late-January 2014. After that, it will meet about six months before lessee Anadarko Petroleum Corp. builds any roads, drills exploratory holes or conducts any other activities that might impact big game habitat.
In the meantime, Christy said that SITLA is seeking nominations for the two seats that have been set aside for sportsmen and hunters.
“We actually encourage people that fit that criteria from Grand County to apply,” he said Nov. 27.
Christy said his agency always envisioned that it would have some kind of wildlife advisory committee in place, even before SITLA reached a deal to lease about 96,000 acres of trust-owned land to Anadarko.
“From the inception of our negotiations with Anadarko, [SITLA] and Anadarko had it in our minds to create this kind of committee,” he said.
Christy called Anadarko a world-renowned company that has a strong record of environmental stewardship, and he said he’s confident that the deal can be a win-win situation for everyone.
In the days since SITLA announced its move to form the new advisory committee, Christy said hunters and sportsmen have come forward to praise the trust.
That’s quite a contrast from the reception it received in late August, when sportsmen’s groups learned that an Anadarko subsidiary had won the right to search for oil and gas on SITLA lands in the area.
The group’s were careful at the time not to criticize Anadarko. But they strongly condemned SITLA’s board for reaching its decision behind closed doors, calling it a “slap in the face,” a “blindside hit” and a “backroom deal.”
Representatives from Trout Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said the deal threatened grassroots efforts to protect some of the highest-quality big game habitat in the West.
Anadarko later agreed to hold off on any exploration work inside the 18,000-acre Bogart Canyon area until January 2016. It plans to get started in previously developed areas to the north, and then work its way toward the southern portion of the lease area.
Sportsmen commended the company for being willing to work with them, and are praising SITLA for working to form the new advisory committee.
“We feel this is a step in the right direction,” Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Regional Director Bill Christensen said Nov. 26. “Any time SITLA invites advice from wildlife interests when reviewing oil and gas leases, especially in the Book Cliffs, it’s a welcome development.”
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Coordinator Ken Theis also welcomed SITLA’s announcement.
“My initial reaction is that it’s a really optimistic approach to some of the dilemmas that we’re facing with SITLA lands, and that it shows a more progressive approach than we’ve seen in the past,” he said Nov. 27. “It’s really encouraging to me because we haven’t seen that in recent dealings [with SITLA].”
Theis said he remains hopeful that the various stakeholders can reach a deal to protect some lands in the Book Cliffs, while freeing up other areas for possible development.
“It’s really one of the most important things that we’re working on in Utah,” he said. “In fact, the Book Cliffs are probably our number one priority.”